UW gets $126 million toward ocean research initiative

The University of Washington will receive $126 million over five years to build a 500-mile long power and Internet grid along the ocean floor.

The Ocean Observatories Initiative will give researchers real-time video and data through cables and sensors placed on the Juan de Fuca plate. Mobile observatories and monitoring stations can plug in to what is called a telepresence on the ocean floor, accessible on the Internet.

Researchers believe the data gathered will help them understand all sorts of natural phenomena such as volcanoes, earthquakes, storms, rainfall patterns, tsunamis, algae blooms, oxygen depletion and sea life — natural events that influence climate change.

The grant is the culmination of a 20-year effort by UW Oceanography professor John Delaney and a team of fellow UW scientists. He said for the first time scientists will be able to make real time observations across a huge ocean floor over extended periods of time.

“There’s so much more that we need to understand ourselves as scientists and as a society,” said Delaney. “But we also need to share that with the public so they understand more powerfully what this is all about.”

Delaney says most people don’t really know much about the ocean.

“They say they love the ocean and they’re passionate about the ocean. That’s the equivalent of saying ‘I looked at the edge of a razor blade and now I understand the steel industry,’ ” he said.

The UW’s portion of the Ocean Observatories Initiative is called the RSN for Regional Scale Nodes. The entire initiative will cost $385 million and is expected to produce data for 25 years.